What’s the secret to a truly productive morning routine? It might not be what you think.
Creating My Morning Routine
Even if you have only a casual interest in optimizing your productivity, you’ve likely heard about the importance of a solid morning routine. For me, a strong morning routine is an essential building block of sustainable productivity.
After leaving the structured life of a corporate lawyer to venture into entrepreneurship, my morning routine became a significant point of struggle, as I adapted to the freedom of a flexible schedule. After much trial and error I finally got it to a place where I can feel good about it, even as I continue to refine it.
In this post I am going to share some of my struggles in rebuilding my morning routine and the evolution of my mindset about the purpose of, and my approach to, my morning routine.
This is a long one, because this has been on my mind for a while. So buckle in… 😉
The Wrong Mentors?
In creating and refining the rituals stack of my morning routine I have often bumped up against the hard wall of the routines shared by “productivity experts.” For a long time I’ve felt like a failure because I couldn’t fit the mold of a morning routine offered by people like Michael Hyatt, Chris Brogan, Todd Henry, Anthony Iannarino or other mentors I follow, most of whom are men. I’ve struggled to apply their models to my own life because their rigid schedules don’t allow me the time I need for things that, quite frankly, they never need to think about.
The Wrong Mold
Trying — and failing — to fit my life into the rigid structures offered by highly successful men, many of whom are married or who have teams of people helping them with their tasks (and therefore more support in handling the minutiae of life like cooking dinner or grocery shopping) was like fuel on the bonfire of my feelings of unworthiness.
Trying to fit into these schedules fueled my feelings of inadequacy, which triggered self-loathing, self-blame, self-judgment and self-criticism. I’d hear my inner critic berate me for not measuring up, not doing more.
Nothing I did was ever enough.
To be clear, the people I mention here (and others not mentioned), are wonderful men, and incredible mentors. They have a lot to offer, and I have learned a lot from each of them. The problem isn’t with anything these men teach. And it’s not that their morning routines don’t work.
They do work: for them. They don’t work for me.
I realized I was pushing myself to fit into a mold that someone else created. And it was a mold that didn’t fit me.
The Foundations of My Routines
Building Muscles of Worthiness, Love and Belonging
In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown writes that the one thing that separates people who feel a sense of love and belonging from those who don’t is a belief in their own worthiness. We fall victim to the belief that we must satisfy certain prerequisites to become worthy, instead of resting in the higher truth that we are worthy now, just as we are.
This creates a vicious cycle. If we don’t believe we are worthy of love and belonging, we can’t fully experience love and belonging. And if we can’t fully experience love and belonging, if we can’t feel worthy on our own merits, just for who we are, and not what we do, then we can’t serve others effectively.
This is because at the heart of love and belonging lie the other two pieces to this complex puzzle: self-love and self-acceptance.
Our capacity to love and be loved by others is limited to how much we love ourselves. When we resort to self-criticism, self-blame and self-judgment, we limit our ability to love and be loved by others.
The Problem With Hustle
When we hustle to fit in – changing who we are to fit what a particular group needs us to be, or even what we think we need to be to belong to a particular group – we don’t allow ourselves to be seen as who we really are, and we never truly experience belonging.
Brown writes that
… cultivating self-love and self-acceptance is not optional. They aren’t endeavors that I can look into if and when I have some spare time. They are priorities. [emphasis is mine]
What does this have to do with morning routines?
I’m in the business of serving others. I help people make big decisions about the directions of their life and business, how to manage their biggest investments, where and how to live. I help others make decisions for themselves, not to fit into others’ expectations. So it’s incredibly important for me to be grounded in my own worthiness.
For me, trying to fit into the mold created by others was defeating all efforts at building my muscles of worthiness, love and belonging. Rather than fueling productivity, it was draining my productivity.
Productivity, at its heart, is not about doing more in less time, but about doing the right things more effectively. It requires clarity of purpose — specifically, your purpose.
By trying to mold myself into an image of what I thought would be productive, I was losing all sense of my purpose.
Where Are the Women?
As I looked around the landscape, I noticed that I don’t see many women who speak about productivity, or who share their routines and rituals. I wonder why this is.
Are Women Afraid to Acknowledge Our Rituals?
Is it because we want to pretend that we don’t think about things like putting on makeup, doing our hair and shaving our legs? Is it because we want to pretend that sometimes you have to change your clothes because the pants you want to wear are just too tight at that time of the month, or because the bra you put on is inexplicably itchy?
These are real things that come up. Putting on makeup takes time. Brushing my hair takes time. Don’t get me started on blow-drying my hair. The emergence of DryBar – a salon that offers only blowouts – was a game-changer for me. And yet I still have to get there and sit in the chair.
I have often wondered if I should simply shave my head and invest in a few good wigs, so that I could have my hair styled without my needing to be present.
Seriously. I have spent energy contemplating whether this would enhance my productivity.
Do all women think about these things? Maybe not. But I do. And I’m guessing that I’m not the only one.
In an age of feminism it can feel counter-culture to say that we are not like men.
The truth is, women are not like men. We have different considerations. That doesn’t make us inferior. It just makes us different.
External Appearance vs Internal Feeling
I suppose you could argue that thinking about any of these things is just another example of how I’m trying to be what others expect me to be. There may be some truth to that. Our culture expects women in business to look and dress a certain way.
But what if that way doesn’t work for me? I do my best work when I’m comfortable. That often means leggings and a tank top.
If I showed up to meet a potential client in those clothes, with no makeup on, I doubt I would be taken seriously. That’s not what we call “dressed for success.” At least not for women.
We are wired to make quick judgments based on appearance. That’s why I work with my clients to prepare and stage their homes before listing them; first impressions count and people look at what’s on the surface.
My routine isn’t only about how I will appear to others. Even on a day when I work from home and do not see anyone, I keep my morning routine. I may wear different clothes, but I still put on makeup and do my hair.
The Real Driver of My Morning Routine
I do this because my morning routine is about more than “productivity;” it’s about self-love.
Practicing my rituals and spending time to put myself together isn’t just about “putting on my face,” as my mother would say. And yes, I do know that I have a pretty face, even without makeup. The act of putting on makeup is an act of self-love and creativity. It’s how I prime for the day.
To use a masculine metaphor, it’s how I apply my war-paint to head into battle.
Filling and Fueling Myself
When I began to let go of the rigidity of the time schedules offered by men, I allowed myself to create a space in which I could finally get back in touch with who I am and what fuels me.
The biggest shift for me in creating a morning routine was a mindset shift: allowing myself to make self-care a priority.
It’s not always easy to create this space for myself. As someone driven to serve others, the impulse to put everyone else first is strong. There are always things I could be doing: emails to clients, phone calls, research, follow up.
The Mindset Behind My Morning Routine
My most intense strength training does not happen at the gym. The muscle of putting my needs first is the hardest to build.
Of course, there are times when something is truly urgent. In those cases, I adjust my routine to get the job done. But I’ve come to realize that those times are less frequent than I previously believed.
My morning routine is about creating and performing rituals that nourish my body, mind and soul. It extends beyond a good workout, a good breakfast, meditation and study; it includes practices in self-care and self-compassion.
It’s about filling my soul so that I have more to give to others throughout the day.
When I allow myself to put my needs first, I am more tolerant and compassionate of others. I don’t easily fall into overwhelm from the non-important urgencies. I show up with more presence for my clients, and can hold space for their processes, because I’ve held space for myself. I’m able to give more generously of myself. I have expanded my capacity to serve and lead.
Isn’t that the true essence of productivity?
Are you ready for a morning routine that will ignite your inner fire? Join me for The Ritual Revolution. Learn how to create sustainable daily practices that will fuel your purpose and expand your capacity to lead and serve.